UPDATE: Miami Lakes Town Attorney Mitchell Bierman, a partner with the law firm Weiss, Serota et al. informs Banana Republican that Florida law allows elected officials to seek reimbursement for legal expenses incurred fighting ethics charges that are eventually dismissed. He also provided us with town legislation that allows Miami Lakes officials to use the town attorney to respond to ethics complaints. Bierman added the invoices show that only half of the $52,185 was used to fight Nancy Simon's ethics charges.
Miami Lakes Town Councilwoman Nancy Simon is one special elected official. While local politicians generally pay for their own legal defense when facing charges of unethical behavior, Simon's attorneys (who also represent the town) billed Miami Lakes taxpayers. According to invoices obtained by Banana Republican, Miami Lakes paid $52,185 to the law firm of Weiss, Serota, Helfman, Pastoriza, Cole & Boniske between October 2008 and June of this year to defend Simon against complaints filed with the state and Miami-Dade ethics commissions. During that period, Simon voted to keep the law firm as the town's attorney -- which means she voted on a matter in which she had a conflict of interest.
Simon told Banana Republican that she used Weiss Serota because she would not be facing the ethics complaint if she wasn't a councilwoman. "It is a pity that I have been persecuted," she says. "I stand here every day taking hits. I take it like a champ. It was a bogus charge."
Simon has been in trouble before. In 2008, the state department of business and professional regulation found her guilty of selling real estate without a license, a third-degree felony that carries a penalty of five-years in prison if convicted. Despite the department's findings, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office never indicted her. Simon has emphatically denied the charges in previous news stories.
At the same time, she has been fighting a separate ethics complaint brought against her by Miami Lakes resident Gus Abella who exposed her real estate pecadillo. Simon claims Abella's complaint had no basis. "I am afraid of him," Simon says. "I have a crazy man who is trying to hurt me and my family."
Weiss Serota has been charging the town to defend Simon during the past two years. For instance, in December 2008, the law firm billed the city $2,937 for a telephone conference with Miami-Dade ethics commission Executive Director Robert Meyers, legal research on case law, and reviewing and analyzing the complaint against Simon, among other related work. The ethics complaint was ultimately dismissed.
With Weiss Serota representing her, Simon should have abstained from voting on any matters relating to the law firm. She didn't. On September 23, 2009, Simon voted to renew Weiss Serota's contract to be Miami Lakes town attorney. At the town council's regular meeting this past Tuesday, she again failed to disclose her conflict when Simon voted to approve a $600,000 payment to the law firm.
Simon insists that she did not have a conflict. "I hold myself to high standards," Simon says. "I do the best for this community. I defend my taxpayers."
She also refuted that the attorneys did $52,185 worth of legal work on her behalf. "There is no way they could have billed $52,000 on my case," Simon asserts. "It is impossible."
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Read the invoices below: